ANALYSIS: Can soaps simplify choice?’

Procter & Gamble and Lever are culling their sub-brands to lessen confusion. Harriet Marsh and Sharon Marshall report

Procter & Gamble and Lever are culling their sub-brands to lessen

confusion. Harriet Marsh and Sharon Marshall report

‘The Great Soap Simplification’, (GSS), is Procter & Gamble’s

euphemistic admission that the marketing effort and millions of pounds

invested in the development of its sub-brands in the past decade have

been poured down the drain.

The quest to dazzle shoppers with an endless array of brand variants of

Ariel, Bold, Daz and Fairy has, in fact, left the consumer in a spin.

‘If you stand in front of the supermarket shelves then you are just

baffled by what is there,’ says Andy Milligan, director of brand

identity at Interbrand. ‘P&G and Lever Bros have been frittering their

money away on sub-brands instead of piling it into their key brands.’

To overcome this confusion, P&G is wielding an axe across its product

range. UK consumers remain unique among Europeans in retaining a loyalty

towards the big box powders - so big boxes stay. Instead, the original

compact powders - in Ariel’s case this means Ariel Ultra and Ariel Color

- are to go.

From October, consumers will be left with a simple choice, big box

versus super-compact and, to simplify the choice still further, the

company is introducing a 2:1 ratio between the two box sizes. A

3kg box of regular will be equal to 1.5kg of concentrated powder and

both sizes of comparable powders will now be sold at the same price.

For P&G, this strategy reflects the change in focus of their research.

The company has moved from concentrating on how consumers wash their

clothes to looking at how consumers do their shopping. ‘Everyone has a

lot of knowledge about consumers as users of products, the gap has been

about understanding consumers as shoppers,’ says Dick Johnson, director

of corporate affairs at P&G. ‘As the technology has developed, the

earlier variants have become redundant.

‘We see this as all about making our consumers’ lives easier. Our

customers will no longer need a calculator in the supermarket.’

Arch-rival Lever has a similar strategy. It has already cut ten pack

sizes from its Persil liquid range and now plans to extend the cull to

its concentrates.

The number of packs and variants across its Persil, Radion and Surf

ranges is being reduced. It will also drop complicated dosage

instructions and simply mark up how many washes each pack will bring.

‘With the relaunch of Persil in April, we started to address the

simplification process and reduce customer confusion,’ says John

Trafford, business group manager for fabrics at Lever Bros. ‘We took the

opportunity then to take out seven or eight stock-keeping units. We are

now taking this further.’

P&G and Lever Bros are following a well-trodden path. In the past few

years Nestle, Crosse & Blackwell, Cadbury and, most recently and

significantly, Birds Eye has adopted a similarly harsh policy towards

sub-brands that are now deemed irrelevant.

The soap manufacturers may also have a hidden agenda. This policy is

likely to help in the battle against retailers’ own-label brands, which

have 12% of the market (Datamonitor) and may well have benefited from

confusion over branded variants.

Both Sainsbury’s and Safeway are implementing a similar ‘simplification

policy’ on their own-label brands. ‘Smaller stores have already cut down

on the numbers of Cyclon on offer, although larger stores still have the

full range,’ says a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman. ‘To make it less

complicated, we are realigning how much space is being given to the

remaining variants.’

Ultimately, the whole battle of the soap wars could come full cycle. P&G

believes the ‘vision of the future’ will be the end of big box powders.

Meanwhile, Lever Bros intends to axe all variants of its liquid brands

to leave one format from next spring. ‘This may lead ultimately to only

one powder form, although not just yet,’ says Trafford.


As they stand now


Top P&G and Lever brands and spend

* Ariel Color Washing Powder (pounds 1.7m), Futur Color Washing Powder

(pounds 2.1m), Futur Liquid (pounds 4m), Futur Washing Powder (pounds


* Bold Automatic Powder (pounds 1.8m), Ultra Liquid (pounds 1.3m), Ultra

Powder (pounds 3.7m).

* Daz Automatic Powder (pounds 8m), Ultra Powder (pounds 1.6m).

* Fairy Ultra Liquid (pounds 2.3m), Ultra Powder (pounds 2.1m).

* Persil Automatic Liquid (pounds 1.7m), Automatic Powder (pounds 6.4m),

Colour Powder (pounds 1.5m) Finesse Liquid (pounds 1.5m), New Generation

Liquid (pounds 4.5m), New Generation Powder (pounds 5.1m), Non-Bio

Powder (pounds 4m).

* Surf Automatic Powder (pounds 1.3m), Micro Powder (pounds 5.7m).



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